Friday, February 23, 2018

Real life brothers, all became Permanent Deacons

Enduring lessons from parents have helped deacon brothers center lives on families and keep the faith

By Mark Zimmermann, Catholic Standard Editor
Thursday, February 22, 2018 

In their retirement, Deacons James and John Somerville live near the family farm and home parish where they grew up in Southern Maryland. (CS PHOTO BY MICHAEL HOYT)
In their retirement, Deacons James and John Somerville live near the family farm and home parish where they grew up in Southern Maryland. (CS PHOTO BY MICHAEL HOYT)
In the fall of 1987, Deacons Joseph, James and John Somerville were interviewed and photographed by the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, for a story that noted their distinction then of being the only three brothers in the United States to be serving as permanent deacons in the Catholic Church.
Describing the close-knit brothers, the article said their joint interview “was peppered with jolly laughter and gentle teasing. The three men sat in adjoining chairs, seeming to fit together as comfortably as the fingers in a well-worn leather glove.”
That article began by noting that when the Somerville brothers were children, they sometimes raced each other as they ran a few miles to attend Mass at their nearby parish, St. Joseph in Morganza, because there wasn’t room for all 10 children in their Southern Maryland farm family to ride to church together.
Deacon Joseph Somerville, the oldest of those three brothers, died in 1996 at the age of 69. A retired D.C. police officer, he and his wife Harriet had seven children, and he served many years as a deacon at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington.
This past fall, the two surviving Somerville deacon brothers met a Catholic Standard reporter again, 30 years after the first interview, at the home of Deacon John Somerville in Loveville, Maryland, located on the property where their father once farmed tobacco, corn, wheat and soybeans. Deacon James Somerville lives nearby, and the two attend daily Mass together at St. Joseph Church in Morganza, where they grew up and received the sacraments.
“I was born and raised about a mile from here,” said Deacon John Somerville.
Both brothers are now retired from their professional and church work.
Deacon John Somerville, who is now 87, worked for many years at the National Security Agency and served as a deacon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Seat Pleasant.  Deacon James Somerville, who turns 89 on Feb. 25, worked as a supervisor for the Maryland Highway Department and served as a deacon at St. Joseph Parish in Morganza and assisted former Washington Auxiliary Bishops Leonard Olivier and William Curlin, both of whom are now deceased.
As with the first interview, the follow-up gravitated quickly to the lessons the men had learned from their parents, Dellie and Susie Somerville.
Noting how as a youngster he often accompanied his devout mother to church activities, Deacon John Somerville said, “I never went to so many novenas in my life!”
His brother said their parents taught them to try to accept and follow God’s will throughout their lives. “We worked toward that end, doing His will,” said Deacon James Somerville.
The deacons said their father and mother by example taught them enduring lessons about helping others.
“He (our father) was always giving,” said Deacon James Somerville. His brother remembered how their dad in early December would begin splitting wood and collecting vegetables and other food items, which he delivered by horse and wagon to widows, elderly and poor people he knew throughout St. Mary’s County, so they would have warmth and a good dinner for Christmas.
Later when John Somerville was serving in the Army overseas in Germany, he reflected on those Christmases back home. “I cried… (thinking) that’s what Christmas is all about,” and he later shared those lessons with his own children.
Their parents also stressed the importance of their children receiving a good education. Deacon John Somerville noted that their father, along with other family and community members, helped start Benjamin Banneker Elementary and High School in Loveville that was the first public school for African American students in St. Mary’s County.
“All of us went there,” he said, noting that all 10 of the Somerville children went on to high school, and five of the 10 went on to college.
Like other African Americans who lived in times of segregation, the Somervilles  had to bear their share of crosses in society and even in their church.
When then-Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle began his pioneering efforts to integrate Catholic parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Washington shortly after becoming archbishop here in 1948, segregation was an entrenched fact of life in the nation’s capital and in Southern Maryland.
Before integration, St. Joseph Parish in Morganza operated separate Catholic elementary schools for white and black children. The Somervilles like other African American Catholics in their parish had to sit in one of the back pews and were expected to wait at the end of the Communion line, after white Catholics received the Eucharist.
“The priest would tell us we couldn’t sit in front. There were a few pews in the back of church we were permitted to sit in,” said Deacon James Somerville.
Deacon John Somerville shared two sad memories from that era, recalling that when he was a child at St. Joseph, the white children were allowed to receive First Holy Communion near the high altar, but then the gates to the sanctuary were closed to the black children, who received the Eucharist near the Communion rail. “That hurt me,” he said.
He was never near the altar until he became a deacon in 1981, he said.
When John Somerville was 13, he and one of his brothers arrived to St. Joseph Church early for a Christmas Mass to hold the pew near the back that his family paid “pew rent” for during the year. First the ushers tried to have them moved from the pew to make room for white Mass-goers, then later at Communion time, the ushers blocked their row from going to Communion until white people sitting behind them had gone. Young John Somerville tried to push his way into the line, and he said he was called the “n” word, and didn’t end up going to Communion at that Mass.
“It was God’s house, and I was God’s child,” he said, reflecting on the anger he felt then.
After serving in an integrated unit in the Army in Germany during the Korean War, John Somerville returned home and was encouraged to apply for a job with NSA. He said when he first went to downtown Washington to turn in his application, a lady told him, “I’m sorry, we don’t hire colored people.” He looked at her and tore up the application and threw it away.
His father taught him to be patient, he said. “He would always say, ‘One day it’ll be your turn.’ I used to wonder, ‘When will it be my turn?’”
He later went to another government office down the street, filled out an application form, and he was hired by the NSA and worked there for 33 years before retiring in 1986.
“Over the years, a lot of things changed naturally,” he said.
Deacon James Somerville noted that after his ordination to the diaconate in 1982, it
“was very special” for him to be assigned to his home parish. He assisted at Masses, funerals and at Confirmations, performed Baptisms and helped with marriage counseling. “He definitely opened and closed the church,” said his daughter Stephanie Briscoe.
It seemed to him that some people there initially avoided coming to him for Communion, but he added, “It continued to get better and better… It got to the point (where) I’d have more coming to me for Communion than the priest (did).”
Like many African American Catholics, the Somervilles kept the faith.
“All my relatives were Catholic,” said Deacon John Somerville, who said that growing up, “we didn’t know there was any other religion than Catholicism.”
Deacon James Somerville said he took to heart lessons taught him by the sisters at St. Joseph Parish. “I thought the Lord would get things straightened out, and I worked with that in mind,” he said.
Both men have remained devoted to their families. Deacon James Somerville and his wife Helen have been married for 63 years and have nine children and more than 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Deacon John Somerville and his wife Audrey were married for nearly 62 years and when she died in 2016, they had 13 living and three deceased children, along with 43 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.
Deacon John Somerville pursued his vocation to the diaconate with the support of his wife Audrey, and after encouragement from his parish priest and from a friend and colleague at the National Security Agency, Thomas Knestout, who himself served as a deacon and was the father of two sons who later became priests for the Archdiocese of Washington – Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout and Father Mark Knestout, now the pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda.
Audrey Somerville was the past president of the Sodality Union of the Archdiocese of Washington and the National Council of Catholic Women and was very involved at her family’s parish, St. Margaret of Scotland. A tribute in her funeral program noted, “She stood by her faith, stood by her husband, stood by her family, and stood by her friends. Now she is standing by… waiting for us in Heaven.”
Her husband, Deacon John Somerville, said, “Audrey did everything… She was very deeply involved in her Catholic faith.”
He noted that when she was very ill and dying, her prayerfulness inspired the doctors and nurses serving her. Then, as when she was healthy, she prayed the Hail Mary throughout the day.
One nurse told Deacon John Somerville, “I was with your wife. She prayed constantly. I’m Catholic – I haven’t been to church in so long. I had to go to church this weekend.’” A doctor told him he never saw anyone like her and said, “She’s an angel.”
“She affected everyone she was around,” her husband said.
This past year, Deacon John Somerville took “the best trip I ever had,” as he joined a granddaughter on a cross-country train ride to the West Coast, where he met with other family members.
Reflecting on a lifetime of blessings, he said, “The most happiest moment, the most cherished moment of my life, is all of them.”
His life, centered around his family and his faith, “has been one of the most rewarding journeys I could imagine,” he said.
His brother, Deacon James Somerville, added, “I devoted my life to the Lord, to try to do his will, in whatever I do.” He said being able to serve the Lord, “first as a parent, husband, grandparent and great-grandparent and then in the diaconate has fulfilled every desire and blessing I can wish for.”
The brothers see each other every morning for daily Mass at St. Joseph Church where they once ran to as boys, but now they drive there.
“We meet in the same pew,” said Deacon John Somerville.
And that pew is now near the front of church, in the second row by the center aisle.

The Pope and the youth that brought him to tears

The Question That Brought the Pope to Tears
A Visit with Romanian Young People and Children Aided by the NGO ‘FDP Protagonists in Education’

Pope François © L'Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis © L'Osservatore Romano
Children can ask deep, difficult questions. Sometimes the questions they asked as so poignant as to bring the Pope to tears.
Pope Francis admitted as much in a January 4, 2018, audience with a group of Romanian youngsters, guests of an orphanage, aided by the NGO “FDP Protagonists in Education,” which has been operating in Romania for years.
It was the last of six questions submitted by the young people in the audience that struck an emotional chord with the Holy Father: “When I was two months old, my mother left me in an orphanage. I looked for my mother at 21 and stayed with her for two weeks, but she didn’t behave well with me, and so I left. My father is dead. What is my fault if she doesn’t love me? Why doesn’t she accept me?”
The Pope’s answer (in part): “When I read your question, before giving the instructions to write the discourse, I wept. I was close to you with a couple of tears. Because I don’t know; you’ve given me so much; the others also, but you caught me, perhaps, with my defenses down. When one talks of a mother there is always something…and at that moment you made me cry…It’s not a question of fault; it’s a question of adults’ great fragility, due in your case to so much poverty, so many social injustices that crush little ones and the poor, and also due to so much spiritual poverty. Yes, spiritual poverty hardens hearts and causes what seems impossible, that a mother abandon her child…Your mother loves you but doesn’t know how to do it, how to express it. She can’t because life is hard; it’s unjust. And she doesn’t know how to express that love that is within her, or how to caress you. I promise you that I will pray so that one day you will see that love. Don’t be skeptical; have hope.”
The earlier question may not have brought the Pope to physical tears, but all were moving:
  1. Why is life so difficult and why do we quarrel so often among ourselves? And we cheat? You priests tell us to go to church; however, no sooner we leave we err and commit sins. So, why did I go into the church? If I believe that God is in my soul, why is it important to go to church?
  2. Why are there parents that love healthy children and not those that are sick or that have problems?
  3. Last year, one of our friends, who stayed in the orphanage, died. He died during Holy Week, on Holy Thursday. An Orthodox priest said to us that he died a sinner and, therefore, would not go to Paradise. I don’t think that’s true.
  4. Why didn’t we have this good fortune? Why? What does it mean?
  5. It so happens that I feel alone and I don’t know what meaning my life has. My child is in foster care and some people judge me as not being a good mother. Instead, I believe my daughter is well and that I made the right decision, also because we see one another often.
The Pope responded with the love of God, pointing out the many “whys” that seem to have no answer but are unraveled over time. “Thus, little by little, God transforms our heart with His mercy, and He also transforms our life.” And he pointed out that some “whys” don’t have an answer.
He continued by admitting that priests make mistakes, we suffer from sin, parents are fragile, we need to overcome our egoism – but the encounter with Jesus heals.  No matter how much pain and suffering we face, God wants to bring healing, the Holy Father said.
FDP was set up in 1996 by Italian and Romanian volunteers, with the support of the Italian organization AVSI. The initial name of the organization was the Foundation for People’s Development.

Archbishop Aymond addresses recent school shooting and local plans for safety

Florida school shootings beg for prayer, action

What was your immediate reaction to the high school shooting in Florida that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers?
I can’t imagine the fear and the trepidation that the kids experienced, as well the fear that their parents experienced. This will affect these kids emotionally for the rest of their lives in one way or another. When people commit such heinous acts, they take none of that into consideration. Between what’s happened in Florida and also with the increase in murders in New Orleans, what has come to my mind are the words of St. John Paul II, who said we are living in a culture of death and must transform this culture into a culture of life. When you examine these tragic events, we really are living in culture of death, where human life is not respected.
How do we change a culture of death into a culture of life?
Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a very long time. We’ve become complacent in hearing about all these tragedies. How many school shootings, how many church shootings have we had in the last couple of years? We’ve become sort of numb to these things. This calls for prayer; it calls for us talking to our kids; it calls for us as religious leaders and teachers in our schools to discuss these things with kids so that they can come to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the dignity of human life.
Mardi Gras was a beautiful day, and then you see the killings that took place along the parade route.
Yes, it’s tragic. When we look at this culture of death, it also important to realize that we’re not just talking about gun violence. Another sign of the culture of death is the opioid crisis around the country. In many ways, that fits into the same category – it’s a lack of respect for human life, a lack of responsibility that people take for their lives. We, as church, need to be aware of the opioid crisis and speak about it. What are we telling our kids in school? What are we telling our young adults, who sometimes go through depression or other challenges? In the archdiocese, we have a healing ministry called the Substance Abuse Ministry (SAM), which was started by Deacon Louie Bauer, and which provides help for those who are either afflicted with or affected by substance abuse. There is an adage about the necessity of prayer and action. It takes both. I’m also reminded that during Lent, we not only do penance for our own personal weakness, but we also do penance for the sins of our society, for the lack of respect for human life that is seen by the killing of children in school, people in churches and people on the streets as well as the opioid epidemic that is claiming so many lives. Jesus tells us, some things can be driven out only by prayer and fasting.
What have the U.S. bishops said about tightening gun laws as one element of a solution to the senseless violence?
On the federal level, we work as closely as we can with Congress, and on the state level, we work as closely as we can with our legislators. We emphasize respect for human life. We also ask the question, why is it that people who are mentally ill, irresponsible or prone to take another person’s life are legally able to purchase guns? How do they continue to have their gun licenses renewed? There’s something wrong with our society. I know you’re not supposed to talk about gun control, but I think, as Christians, we don’t have a choice but to talk about gun control. People who are unsafe and who have little or no respect for human life are using guns they have somehow acquired to show their total disregard for the value of human life. If we’re really going to talk about forming a culture of life, some kind of sensible gun control is essential. Also, we need to do more to care for the mentally ill. As a society, we do not do this effectively.
Does the archdiocese have plans in place to protect its schools and churches?
We have made available to all of our schools and religious education programs an “active shooter” training called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” It is a program provided by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Greg Champagne, who allowed us to adapt it for our parishes. Deacon Edward Beckendorf is the primary contact for the program. Also, I’ve asked all of our parishes to formulate some kind of plan in the case of an incident inside the church. Is it possible to have a concrete plan everywhere? No, but we can put some safeguards into place. For example, we want the parish leadership – and that includes priests, deacons, ushers and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion – to discuss what to do in the case of a disturbance. If we have enough eyes and ears and a plan, it could help in the moment of such a crisis. It’s disheartening, though, when you see a school that has a plan, but despite those precautions, sadly, 17 kids get killed. I pray that the mercy of God comforts the grieving families and sustains the wounded in their healing. I am encouraging all of us to unite our prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence in these last weeks and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace. Our hope is in the Lord, as he promised after his resurrection, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Saint who links apostolic and patristic eras together

St. Polycarp of Smyrna

Image of St. Polycarp of Smyrna


Feastday: February 23
Patron against earache, dysentery
Birth: 69
Death: 155

Bishop of Smyrna, martyr, and one of the foremost leaders of the Church in the second century. Few details of his life are extant with any reliability beyond his famous martyrdom, which was recounted in the Martyrium Polycarpi. It is believed, however, that he was converted to the faith by St. John the Evangelist about 80 A.D. and became bishop of Smyrna about 96 A.D. He was, as was his friend St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the most important intermediary links between the apostolic and the patristic eras in the Church, especially in Christian Asia Minor. A defender of orthodoxy, he opposed such heretical groups as the Marcionites and Valentinians. He also authored a surviving epistle to the Philippians, exhorting them to remain strong in the faith. The letter is of great interest to scholars because it demonstrates the existence of New Testament texts, with quotes from Matthew and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the first letters of Peter and John. When Ignatius was being taken to Rome to be put to death, he wrote of Polycarp being clothed "with the garment of grace." Polycarp was himself arrested by Roman officials in Smyrna soon after returning from a trip to Rome to discuss the date for Easter. He refused to abjure the faith, telling his captain that he had served Christ for eighty six years. The Romans burned him alive with twelve companions. The year of his death has been put at 155 or 156, although Eusebius of Caesarea places the year at 167 or 168, meaning it would have fallen in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. If so, changes in the year of his birth would be necessary. The most detailed account of his death was the Martyrium Polycarpi

A modern day Eucharistic miracle in Italy

The recovered consecrated hosts.
The recovered consecrated hosts. (Courtesy of Avvenire)

Blogs  |  Feb. 22, 2018
Hosts ‘Miraculously’ Preserved 16 Months After Devastating Earthquake
Italian priest who helped make the discovery says it is reminiscent of the Eucharistic miracle of Siena in 1730.

Forty ‘miraculously’ preserved, consecrated hosts have been discovered in a church that was destroyed by a large earthquake in central Italy in 2016.
The hosts, recovered from a tabernacle recently retrieved from the ruins of the parish church of Arquata del Tronto, have no bacteria or mold, as usually happens to hosts after a few weeks, according to the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire.
The tabernacle, which since the earthquake had been kept in storage along with other artifacts and was recently returned to the diocese, contained an upturned but unopened ciborium.
Inside the ciborium were 40 hosts whose color, shape and scent were unchanged. Even though the quake took place nearly a year and a half ago, the hosts “seemed to have been made yesterday,” Avvenire reported Feb. 21.
The local bishop, Mons. Giovanni D'Ercole of Ascoli Piceno, was cautious, saying “faith requires prudence,” but added that such a discovery needs “no words.”
“It is a sign of hope for everyone,” he added. “Confronted with a fact like this, one has to surely remain silent. It simply touches and strengthens faith in Jesus who remains alive to console the earthquake-stricken population of Arquata.”
The 6.6 magnitude earthquake that hit the region on Oct. 30 caused immense damage to Arquata del Tronto and the surrounding area. The basilica in Norcia, the native town of St. Benedict and home to the famous Benedictine Monks of Norcia, was almost totally destroyed. It followed a similarly powerful quake in the region on Aug. 24 of that year which killed almost 300 people.
Don Angelo Ciancotti, a priest in nearby Ascoli who helped make the discovery, said finding the hosts was “a great joy” and gives a “message for the whole community.”
“Yes, for me it is a miracle,” he told the Italian daily Il Resto del Carlino. “Obviously, those who have no faith aren’t able to believe in anything, but never has there been any tampering. The Lord has done this all by Himself.”
Don Ciancotti, who has close family ties to Arquata, knew every missing person in the rubble and all the streets in the region. So together with some residents he sought to recover all the artifacts that could be saved.
He carried out some research to see where objects had been recovered, including those originating from the church — Santa Maria Assunta in Arquata. Later, he learned that the church’s treasures had been stored in a warehouse, so he retrieved them, cleaned them up, and put them in the sacristy of the cathedral in Ascoli.
Seeing that the tabernacle was locked, he remembered he had another key for a draw in his office. “I said, ‘let's try’, and it opened on the first attempt,” he said. But the biggest surprise was to come: ”The ciborium was horizontal, but it hadn’t opened, and inside it the hosts were perfectly intact,” he said.
He said the wafers had been prepared by nuns at the convent of Sant'Onofrio. “I immediately asked them if they used preservatives and they told me: ‘No, just flour and water.’"
Don Ciancotti was the first to be sceptical. “I’m a cousin of [doubting] St. Thomas,” he joked, “and so I had several others witness to it.”
He said he believes the discovery is reminiscent of the Eucharistic miracle of Siena in 1730 when a ciborium with consecrated hosts was stolen but the exact number of hosts miraculously re-appeared in the offering box attached to a prie dieu.
The hosts, which were not consumed, did not deteriorate but remained fresh and even retained a pleasant scent.

Louisiana's infamous Angola prison where inmates made Billy Graham's casket

Billy Graham's casket was hand made by inmates at Angola Penitentiary

ANGOLA, La. (WAFB) Inmates at one of the country's most well-known prisons will have a hand in laying Reverend Billy Graham to rest.
At his request, Angola inmates built his casket back in 2006.
Louisiana State Penitentiary is known as the "Alcatraz of the south." It’s home to the state's most notorious criminals, but is also home to a renowned prison ministry.
“I feel there is a great outpouring of the holy spirit behind bars at this time,” said Clifford Bowman.
Bowman is in bible college at Angola. He was selected to be part of a special team on a special mission: to build a casket. It’s a regular casket for a not so regular man: evangelist, Billy Graham.
“We of course prayed before we started and that's something that does not happen every day when they are doing it in the regular work. Where God is working the devil's gonna’ be there working, so he's gonna’ try and get his licks in too,” said Bowman.
“This was a great honor. Because this is a great man of God and he wants him an inmate to build his coffin and get the inmate preachers involved and its mind boggling it sends a great message,” said Burl Cain.
Richard Liggett constructed the casket for Graham with a couple of modifications from his usual work and it’s ready. “I respect the man. I've listened to him. I know what he preaches. You know, but other than that, I just wanted to do the best job I could,” said Liggett.
Angola first began building their own caskets about 18 years ago. Inmates before then were buried in cardboard boxes, which often fell apart or caved in from the weight of the dirt.
“It’s so symbolic, even though the prisoners have committed horrible crimes... God loves them too,” said Cain.
And so did Reverend Billy Graham.

Cardinal Sarah again speaks forcefully against communion in the hand

Cardinal Sarah: Widespread Communion in the hand is part of Satan’s attack on the Eucharist
Diane Montagna Diane Montagna

ROME, February 22, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The head of the Vatican department overseeing liturgy is summoning the Catholic faithful to return to receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling.
In the preface to a new book on the subject, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, writes: “The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, by sowing errors and fostering an unsuitable way of receiving it. Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the hearts of the faithful.”
“Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated Host,” he said.
The new book, by Don Federico Bortoli, was released in Italian under the title: ‘The distribution of Communion on the hand: a historical, juridical and pastoral survey’ [La distribuzione della comunione sulla mano. Profili storici, giuridici e pastorali].
Recalling the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, Sarah writes that the Angel of Peace who appeared to the three shepherd children in advance of the Blessed Virgin’s visit “shows us how we should receive the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ.” His Eminence then identifies the outrages by which Jesus is offended today in the Holy Eucharist, including “so-called ‘intercommunion.’”
Sarah goes on to consider how faith in the Real Presence “can influence the way we receive Communion, and vice versa,” and he proposes Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa as two modern saints whom God has given us to imitate in their reverence and reception of the Holy Eucharist.
“Why do we insist on receiving Communion standing and on the hand?,” the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship asks. The manner in which the Holy Eucharist is distributed and received, he writes, “is an important question on which the Church today must reflect.”
Here below, with the kind permission of La Nuova Bussola where the preface was first published, we offer our readers a LifeSiteNews translation of several key extracts from Cardinal Sarah’s text.
Providence, which disposes all thing wisely and sweetly, has offered us book The Distribution of Communion on the hand, by Federico Bortoli, just after having celebrated the centenary of the Fatima apparitions. Before the apparition of the Virgin Mary, in the Spring of 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, and said to them: “Do not be afraid, I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” (...) In the Spring of 1916, at the third apparition of the Angel, the children realized that the Angel, who was always the same one, held in his left hand a chalice over which a host was suspended. (...) He gave the holy Host to Lucia, and the Blood of the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco, who remained on their knees, saying: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” The Angel prostrated himself again on the ground, repeating the same prayer three times with Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.
The Angel of Peace therefore shows us how we should receive the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ. The prayer of reparation dictated by the Angel, unfortunately, is anything but obsolete. But what are the outrages that Jesus receives in the holy Host, for which we need to make reparation? In the first place, there are the outrages against the Sacrament itself: the horrible profanations, of which some ex-Satanist converts have reported and offer gruesome descriptions. Sacrilegious Communions, not received in the state of God’s grace, or not professing the Catholic faith (I refer to certain forms of the so-called “intercommunion”), are also outrages. Secondly, all that could prevent the fruitfulness of the Sacrament, especially the errors sown in the minds of the faithful so that they no longer believe in the Eucharist, is an outrage to Our Lord. The terrible profanations that take place in the so-called ‘black masses’ do not directly wound the One who in the Host is wronged, ending only in the accidents of bread and wine.
Of course, Jesus suffers for the souls of those who profane Him, and for whom He shed the Blood which they so miserably and cruelly despise. But Jesus suffers more when the extraordinary gift of his divine-human Eucharistic Presence cannot bring its potential effects into the souls of believers. And so we can understand that the most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, by sowing errors and fostering an unsuitable way of receiving it. Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and lucifer on the other, continues in the hearts of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated Host. This robbery attempt follows two tracks: the first is the reduction of the concept of ‘real presence.’ Many theologians persist in mocking or snubbing the term ‘transubstantiation’ despite the constant references of the Magisterium (…)
Let us now look at how faith in the real presence can influence the way we receive Communion, and vice versa. Receiving Communion on the hand undoubtedly involves a great scattering of fragments. On the contrary, attention to the smallest crumbs, care in purifying the sacred vessels, not touching the Host with sweaty hands, all become professions of faith in the real presence of Jesus, even in the smallest parts of the consecrated species: if Jesus is the substance of the Eucharistic Bread, and if the dimensions of the fragments are accidents only of the bread, it is of little importance how big or small a piece of the Host is! The substance is the same! It is Him! On the contrary, inattention to the fragments makes us lose sight of the dogma. Little by little the thought may gradually prevail: “If even the parish priest does not pay attention to the fragments, if he administers Communion in such a way that the fragments can be scattered, then it means that Jesus is not in them, or that He is ‘up to a certain point’.”
The second track on which the attack against the Eucharist runs is the attempt to remove the sense of the sacred from the hearts of the faithful. (...) While the term ‘transubstantiation’ points us to the reality of presence, the sense of the sacred enables us to glimpse its absolute uniqueness and holiness. What a misfortune it would be to lose the sense of the sacred precisely in what is most sacred! And how is it possible? By receiving special food in the same way as ordinary food. (…)
The liturgy is made up of many small rituals and gestures — each of them is capable of expressing these attitudes filled with love,  filial respect and adoration toward God. That is precisely why it is appropriate to promote the beauty, fittingness and pastoral value of a practice which developed during the long life and tradition of the Church, that is, the act of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. The greatness and nobility of man, as well as the highest expression of his love for his Creator, consists in kneeling before God. Jesus himself prayed on his knees in the presence of the Father. (…)
In this regard I would like to propose the example of two great saints of our time: St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Karol Wojtyła’s entire life was marked by a profound respect for the Holy Eucharist. (...) Despite being exhausted and without strength (...) he always knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. He was unable to kneel and stand up alone. He needed others to bend his knees and to get up. Until his last days, he wanted to offer us a great witness of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Why are we so proud and insensitive to the signs that God himself offers us for our spiritual growth and our intimate relationship with Him? Why do not we kneel down to receive Holy Communion after the example of the saints? Is it really so humiliating to bow down and remain kneeling before the Lord Jesus Christ? And yet, “He, though being in the form of God, [...] humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2: 6-8).
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an exceptional religious who no one would dare regard as a traditionalist, fundamentalist or extremist, whose faith, holiness and total gift of self to God and the poor are known to all, had a respect and absolute worship of the divine Body of Jesus Christ. Certainly, she daily touched the “flesh” of Christ in the deteriorated and suffering bodies of the poorest of the poor. And yet, filled with wonder and respectful veneration, Mother Teresa refrained from touching the transubstantiated Body of Christ. Instead, she adored him and contemplated him silently, she remained at length on her knees and prostrated herself before Jesus in the Eucharist. Moreover, she received Holy Communion in her mouth, like a little child who has humbly allowed herself to be fed by her God.
The saint was saddened and pained when she saw Christians receiving Holy Communion in their hands. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, all of her sisters received Communion only on the tongue. Is this not the exhortation that God himself addresses to us: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it”? (Ps 81:10).
Why do we insist on receiving Communion standing and on the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God? May no priest dare to impose his authority in this matter by refusing or mistreating those who wish to receive Communion kneeling and on the tongue. Let us come as children and humbly receive the Body of Christ on our knees and on our tongue. The saints give us the example. They are the models to be imitated that God offers us!
But how could the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the hand become so common? The answer is given to us — and is supported by never-before-published documentation that is extraordinary in its quality and volume — by Don Bortoli. It was a process that was anything but clear, a transition from what the instruction Memoriale Domini granted, to what is such a widespread practice today (...) Unfortunately, as with the Latin language, so also with a liturgical reform that should have been homogeneous with the previous rites, a special concession has become the picklock to force and empty the safe of the Church’s liturgical treasures. The Lord leads the just along ‘straight paths’ (cf. Wis. 10:10), not by subterfuge. Therefore, in addition to the theological motivations shown above, also the way in which the practice of Communion on the hand has spread appears to have been imposed not according to the ways of God.
May this book encourage those priests and faithful who, moved also by the example of Benedict XVI — who in the last years of his pontificate wanted to distribute the Eucharist in the mouth and kneeling — wish to administer or receive the Eucharist in this latter manner, which is far more suited to the Sacrament itself. I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this method. In my opinion and judgment, this is an important question on which the Church today must reflect. This is a further act of adoration and love that each of us can offer to Jesus Christ. I am very pleased to see so many young people who choose to receive our Lord so reverently on their knees and on their tongues. May Fr. Bortoli’s work foster a general rethinking on the way Holy Communion is distributed. As I said at the beginning of this preface, we have just celebrated the centenary of Fatima and we are encouraged in waiting for the sure triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that, in the end, the truth about the liturgy will also triumph.
* Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Translation by Diane Montagna

The 7th meditation of Pope Francis' retreat

Pope’s Spiritual Exercises: God Gives Us What We Do Not Deserve
Reflecting on Prodigal Son, Says Only Mercy Can Redeem Us

Copyright Vatican Media
Only mercy can redeem us…
According to Vatican News, during the Pope and Roman Curia’s spiritual exercises, Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça, who is leading the meditations, stressed this as he put the story of the Prodigal Son at the forefront of today’s morning meditation.
Meditations this year have been entrusted by the Pope to the Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon, who is leading the meditations on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”
In this morning’s reflection, the priest discussed how the story of the prodigal son is not a parable, but a mirror, and moreover, is ‘our story.’
This parable, he noted, which shows the father offering mercy to the son who did not deserve it, is about each one of us.
“Within us,” Fr. Tolentino said, “are feelings that are suffocated, things that need to be clarified, pathologies, countless threads that need to be connected.”
Noting there are many aspects of our lives that need reconciliation, he said, Jesus wants to give us His Word, and transform conflicts and fear.
“Only mercy, that excessive love that God teaches us, is able to redeem us,” he said.
The older son’s behavior, the Portuguese priest noted, helps us understand God’s mercy even more.
“Mercy,” he underscored, “is offering to another precisely what they do not deserve. It is difficult to define mercy precisely because it does not encase itself in one definition.” Mercy can be understood only, he went on to say, if we allow it to “incarnate itself ” within us “so that we might touch it.”
Concluding his reflections, Fr Tolentino expresses the fact that mercy is always excessive. The moderate person, the person who wants to play it safe, will never understand the Gospel of Mercy. This is because, “The Gospel of Mercy requires that our love be excessive” like the Father’s in the parable who understands everything without saying much. The Father shows us that mercy is gratuitous, it is the art of healing and rebuilding, the experience of forgiveness, the completely unexpected expression of tenderness. In the end, it is an excessive gift.
Whereas on Wednesday afternoon, the Pope focused on Jesus’ own struggle with human weakness and temptation.
During that 7th meditation, he stressed that our poverty is where Jesus intervenes.@ The greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is not our fragility, but our rigidity and self-sufficiency,” he suggested, saying we therefore must learn from our own thirst.
Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2018, Pope Francis departed the Vatican to participate in his annual Lenten Spiritual Exercises at Casa ‘Gesù Divin Maestro’ (the Divine Master House) in the town of Ariccia near Rome. For a week, the Holy Father will remain there praying with members of the Roman Curia. The retreat will conclude on the morning of Friday, Feb. 23. Until then, all of the Pope’s activities, including the weekly General Audience, Feb. 21, are suspended.
Originally, the Spiritual Exercises took place in the Vatican, but Pope Francis moved them to the retreat house, 16 miles outside of Rome.

Winter Olympics update, things certainly have changed

My how things have changed since Saturday.  I wrote then that there just was not enough winning for team USA in these Winter Olympics.  At the time USA had 9 medals.  And not much changed Sunday - Tuesday.  But oh my what happened Wednesday.  Counting the early morning silver medal today by Mikaela Shiffrin, Team USA won 8 medals in the last 24 hours.  Think about that, that's almost the same number of medals in one day as they team managed in the 9 days that had passed when I wrote.

The highlight yesterday of course has to be the big USA victory over Canada in Women's Hockey.

So a lot of what I've written I still stand by.  While Team USA has now improved to 21 medals, more than I predicted they would finish with, they are still looking up overall at Canada, Germany and Norway, who still has 15 medals more than Team USA.

Today I don't want to focus on what USA has left on the table, because it's quite a bit, but rather a stunning day where Team USA gave their best, and left all of us with an incredible 24 hours to remember.  Here is what the team has won with almost 4 days of competition left:

United States Medal Count

United States